Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Former Oath Keeper testifies Jan. 6 was a “Bastille-type moment,” says there was no explicit prior plan to enter Capitol

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Washington — A former Oath Keeper testified in court on Monday that he came to Washington, D.C. with other members of the far-right militia ahead of Jan. 6, 2021, in an attempt to impede the peaceful transfer of power. 

Graydon Young, a Florida man who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and is cooperating with the federal investigation into the breach before he is sentenced, told a jury in Washington, D.C., Monday that he and fellow Oath Keepers, including those currently on trial for seditious conspiracy, had an “implicit agreement” to oppose what they saw as the “corrupt elements” of the U.S. government that day. 

But under cross-examination, Young testified that despite the common understanding he described, the Oath Keepers at the Capitol on Jan. 6 did not explicitly plan to enter the building, agreeing with a defense attorney that breaching the Capitol was more “spontaneous” than planned. 

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and codefendants Kelly Meggs, Jessica Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson, and Thomas Caldwell are currently on trial for multiple crimes stemming from their alleged planning and coordination to carry out what prosecutors say was a conspiracy to stop the peaceful transfer of power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden. 

However, although Young said there had been no explicit plan to break into the Capitol, he said that he and three of the defendants  who entered the Capitol saw themselves as participants in a “Bastille-type moment,” a “momentous” event in the history of an unfolding revolution. 

The goal of the conspiracy, he said under direct examination by prosecutor Jeffrey Nestler, was to impede Congress and the breaching of the Capitol building posed an “opportunity” to do just that.  

Young explained that after the 2020 election, he joined the Oath Keepers at the suggestion of his sister — also a Jan. 6 defendant — and felt the organization was “an effective way to get involved” after he found protests against the election results to be ineffective. 

“I got really ginned up and was emotionally invested in what was going on,” Young testified Monday. He said he spent too much time online, started focusing more on baseless claims of election fraud than his own family, and the Oath Keepers seemed like they agreed with his mindset. 

“Trump was different,” he said, and “something more” than peaceful protest was needed to ensure their concerns about the election were heard.

Young testified under cross-examination that he didn’t attend many events organized by the Oath Keepers. He said during his membership, he participated in one security detail for Trump confidant Roger Stone. Defense attorneys argued their clients were largely in the D.C. area to provide similar security and safety assistance to high-profile rally attendees on Jan. 6. 

He was not very familiar with the defendants currently on trial and testified that he only knew them by their so-called “call signs” before the attack. Young also said that the military-style “stack” that prosecutors allege the Oath Keepers used to enter the Capitol during the breach was also unfamiliar to him.  

After he participated in the Jan. 6 attack, Young said he initially felt “amped” by the events, but later entered “freak-out mode” and joined his sister in burning their Oath Keeper paraphernalia and deleting messaging apps for fear of being investigated. 

His 2021 plea deal, Youg testified, required that he tell the whole truth when asked about Jan. 6 and he acknowledged under questioning by defense attorneys that part of the motivation for his truthful testimony on Monday was to get prosecutors to recommend a shorter prison sentence. 

Young emotionally told the jury he was “completely and wholly” admitting his actions that day and later said he now sees himself as a “traitor” against his own government. 

Young was not the first member of the Oath Keepers present on Jan. 6 to testify against the defendants in the seditious conspiracy trial. Jason Dolan, also a cooperating witness, told the jury earlier this month that members of the group had to be willing to fight back against an illegitimate government and support what they saw as the rightful president over an illegitimate president.

“We were preparing for a trip to D.C.,” Dolan recalled, “if need be then to take up arms and fight back.” 

Prosecutors allege the defendants coordinated movements, amassed weapons, and attempted to use force to halt the lawful functioning of government. 

The jury also heard from U.S. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, who encountered some of the Oath Keepers defendants inside the Capitol on Jan. 6. In multiple exhibits shown to the jury, rioters were seen standing near and in some cases away from Dunn. 

Defense attorneys have argued Dunn told the FBI these rioters, including some Oath Keepers, actually worked to defend him from parts of the mob that day and did not contribute to the chaos inside as prosecutors allege.

But on Monday, Dunn said none of the Oath Keepers offered to help him and a different group, wearing similar gear, separated him from the crowd in a different location. 

“We have dozens of officers down,” Dunn testified he told the group that allegedly included Meggs and Harrelson, “You want to kill everybody.”

Defense attorneys, however, questioned Dunn’s memory, probing whether he could have conflated to the two events at issue, but the officer – who has been outspoken in the past about the trauma he experienced that day — testified he had not. He told the jury the only thing that would have helped at the moment would have been if the rioters left the building entirely.  

Prosecutors said Monday they have a handful of witnesses left in their case before turning to the defense’s case. Rhodes — who recently recovered from a COVID infection that delayed the trial —  intends to testify on his own behalf, defense attorneys said. 

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